We're a bit fanatical about pasta. (If you haven’t yet noticed from the Starch Madness competition, our myriad pasta recipes, our deep dives into things like the merits of salted pasta water, and our explanations of essential pasta techniques, like how to achieve a perfect glossy sauce.) But how could you blame us? Sasha Marx, our former senior culinary editor, grew up in Rome and has been honing his pasta knowledge from a very young age; Daniel Gritzer, our culinary director, worked on farms throughout Italy; and they both have experience cooking professionally at Italian restaurants. Cooking, saucing, and even the serving of pasta are common topics around the office in our Slack channels. Everybody on staff, not just the people who develop the recipes, is deeply passionate about pasta.
And while all of us would agree that you can absolutely make fresh pasta from scratch with just a simple rolling pin, and you can indeed cook dried pasta in just about any old pot, we all firmly believe that you need the right tools to make the best pasta pasta possible.
Below you'll find a somewhat obsessive list of equipment you'll want to make, cook, and serve pasta at home the way we like to do it. Some are more essential than others, and some are for the overachievers (we see you and we love you), but all of them make excellent gifts for pasta lovers. We guarantee there isn't a bad pasta purchase in the bunch.
Tips and Tools For Making Fresh Pasta
A Stand Mixer and Pasta Attachments For Rolling and Cutting
Unless you're going to put in the time and effort to learn how to make fresh pasta with just a rolling pin, we suggest picking up a machine to do some pasta rolling for you. If you already own a stand mixer, we recommend picking up pasta-rolling attachments. With a little bit of practice, you'll be cranking out smooth sheets of dough for lasagna or piles of noodles in no time.
A Manual Pasta Roller
If you don't already own a stand mixer and aren't interested in buying one just for pasta, a manual pasta machine is an excellent alternative. It takes a little more coordination to feed the pasta through while cranking and collecting (if you're flying solo, of course), but the results will be just as good.
A Large Wooden Surface
When you're rolling out, cutting, and filling your dough, having a large wooden surface is important. Since wood is porous and absorbent, it can soak up excess moisture, which will help keep your dough from sticking as you work with it. On other surfaces like parchment or marble, you'd need to use more flour to compensate. Too much flour and you may alter your dough's hydration and final texture. What's more, kneading on a wooden board can lead to a smoother final product, since the surface is easier for the dough to grip.
This maple board fits well on most countertops and gives you a lot of room to work with, whether you're making stuffed pasta like ravioli or you're just making piles and piles of fettuccine. And, of course, it's uses aren't just limited to pasta, it's great for all kinds of pastry work and bread-baking.
A Rolling Pin
Even if you are using an electric pasta-roller, a rolling pin is still helpful to get the dough thin enough to pass through the rollers at all. You could go with a classic French pin we use for most rolling tasks, or you can upgrade to an Italian-made mattarello, a long and thin pin designed specifically for rolling out pasta dough.
A Bench Scraper or Bowl Scraper
A bench scraper or bowl scraper will come in handy frequently during the pasta-making process. When you're kneading, both tools are perfect for removing any sticky dough from your hands and the mixing fork. Once the dough has formed and rested, you can use them again to cut the dough into sections. And finally, after the dough's been rolled, you'll turn to them again to portion the dough into manageable sections (unless, of course, you're determined to see how six-foot-long tagliatelle cook up).
A Drying Screen and Rack
If you want to really go all out, then it's time to pick up a drying screen and pasta rack, which are essential if you want to cure your pasta. Curing means you allow your dough to lightly air-dry, so that your pasta holds onto its shape and texture when cooked. Unlike a sheet tray, which will trap dough's humidity where it makes contact with the pan, screens and racks ensure air flows evenly all around your dough.
If you're not sure which to reach for, we can help. For longer pasta, like tagliatelle and pappardelle, you can grab a rack to cure the strands individually or wrap them into nests and place them on a screen. The screen is also useful for smaller shapes, like orecchiette and ravioli.
A Ravioli Mold and Pastry Wheel
Up for making from-scratch ravioli—stuffed with butternut squash, or fresh ricotta, perhaps? No problem. For that, you'll just need to roll the dough out a notch thinner, until it's delicate and translucent (remember, you'll be biting into two layers at the edges!). You could do the entire filling process by hand, but that takes practice. A ravioli mold makes perfectly-stuffed, evenly-shaped ravioli a guarantee.
To cut out your ravioli, you can either use a knife or a pretty fluted pastry wheel. If you don't have a ravioli mold and you plan to shape the little guys by hand, you'll also want a pastry brush to moisten the edges for a tight seal.
An Accordion Pastry Cutter
If you find that your pasta-cutting skills are subpar and you're creating a lot of trapezoidal ravioli, then you might want to pick up an accordion pastry cutter. This nifty tool promises nice even cuts for your pasta—and it'll be plenty useful for that lattice pie dough, too.
Pastry bags are another useful thing to keep on hand. Sure you could pipe your ravioli filling from a plastic bag or dollop it with a spoon, but a pastry bag will keep your hands clean and your surfaces neat. (And you can use them for lots of other pastry projects.)
A Gnocchi Board
You can absolutely make gnocchi without a gnocchi board (or rigagnocchi, as they call it in Italy)—the tines of a fork will work just fine to create those grooves you often see. But this is a comprehensive list for all the overachievers out there, so here we are! After you've cut your little pillows, simply roll them over a flour-dusted board for those desirable little ridges that'll cradle sauce and cheese.
Tips and Tools For Cooking, Saucing, and Serving Pasta
A Good Pasta Pan
Daniel was so excited when he tracked down the perfect pan for cooking pasta last year. This affordable, aluminum pan doesn't need to be the pan you boil your pasta in, but it should be the pan where you finish the pasta in its sauce. Its size, its generous sloped sides, and its comfortable handle make it a perfect vessel for finishing four servings of pasta with sauce, pasta water, and fat to create the beautiful emulsion known as "la mantecatura."
Do note, however, that this pan isn't induction-friendly!
If you’re not fishing long noodles from the pot with tongs or tweezers, a spider is useful for gently fishing every last piece of short pasta out of the cooking water and placing it into (hopefully!) that perfect pasta pan filled with sauce. It will also come in handy for flipping and agitating ingredients in the deep-fryer, then pulling them out when they're nice and brown.
Tongs or Tweezers
For moving spaghetti from its pasta water to its sauce and twirling it into your bowl, nothing is more useful than a pair of tongs. That's it! That's the pitch!
Ladle and Carving Fork
We've spent a lot of time discussing the merits of pasta water. The TL;DR: Pasta cooking water is essential for a beautiful, silky sauce that glazes to your noodles. To make transferring the water to your sauce pan easier, you'll want a ladle. But a ladle is for more than just transferring water. If you want to bump up your pasta-plating skills, the secret is use a ladle and carving fork together. That’s how the pros make those beautiful nests of spaghetti and other long noodle shapes, twirling the finished pasta in the ladle using the carving fork, then sliding that onto each individual plate.
A Box Grater
Believe it or not, there is a "best" way to grate cheese for pasta. Sure, you may reach for your Microplane when it comes time to grate that Parmesan; you may appreciate how easy it is to clean and how you never accidentally grate your knuckles with it. But, according to our cheese-grating experts, you sometimes need to step away from the Microplane and take out the box grater instead. Box graters grate cheese into a fine but dense powder, which produces silkier, more emulsified sauces that are less prone to breaking than sauces made with Microplaned cheese—especially cheese-heavy ones like cacio e pepe.
Before you go and roll your eyes at me, I'm going to insist that the shape of your bowl can affect your pasta enjoyment. Here's what good pasta bowls have in common: They have a wide, flat bottom to serve as a perfect platform for the pasta and to offer ample room for maneuvering your utensils; they have sides that slope gently upwards so there's room for the sauce to pool at the edges; and they have relatively thick walls to retain heat, so your noodles don't cool off too quickly and their beautiful sauce congeals.
The stoneware bowls featured above are handmade by Jono Pandolfi, but we have several more suggestions at a range of price points.